The Pelicans

Date of publication
William Heinemann
To Mabel Lloyd, without whose enduring friendship my books would not have come to being
Published reviews
Mavrogordato, E. E. ‘New Novels: The Pelicans’. The Times Literary Supplement, no. 872, 3 Oct. 1918, p. 468; ‘An Epic of Blatancy: The Pelicans’. Saturday Review, Nov. 1918, p. 1015.
Rosamund and Frances Grantham have been orphaned at the ages of 14 and 10 following the death of their mother, a half-Hungarian musician. Their Wye Valley neighbours, disabled Ludovic Argent and his mother Lady Argent, discuss their future. Bertha (Bertie) Tregakis, a cousin of Mrs Grantham, arrives from Cornwall to take charge of the two girls. Ludovic discovers Rosamund listening outside the drawing-room door while Bertie and Lady Argent discuss the girls' future; Rosamund is anxious to find out what is planned for them and fears they will be separated. Ludovic is concerned that the girls will be unhappy in Cornwall and suggests to his mother that they take care of them, but she feels unable to do this. The girls arrive in Cornwall at Porthlew and are collected by the taciturn Frederick Tregaskis. They meet Hazel Tregaskis, Bertie's daughter of fourteen. Frederick tries to explain to them that they have some money and that they may choose to go to school, or to live elsewhere, but is hushed by Bertie. They are introduced to Miss Blandflower, Bertie's loyal supporter and unofficial governess to Hazel, who lives with the family. The girls take to Hazel, but wish they could have stayed with Lady Argent, although doing so makes them feel disloyal to Cousin Bertie. Frederick and Bertie quarrel over her decision to bring the girls to Porthlew. Bertie explains what she has done to her friend, a minor composer called Nina Severing, who lives locally. Nina has a son, Morris, expected to go to Oxford but who wishes to become a professional musician. Morris returns and he and Nina argue about his future; half-inclined to run away, his continued presence at home is secured when his mother buys a car. Having spent three years at Oxford, Morris returns to Cornwall, and meets the two Grantham daughters again. Hazel and Rosamund are now out and attending parties and visiting country houses. Nina has made a favourite of Frances, and pronounces Rosamund to be unmusical. Nina and Morris visit Porthlew and hear Hazel Tregaskis sing; Morris plays the piano, and Rosamund is visibly moved by this. Morris takes Rosamund aside before he leaves and asks to come back and see her alone the following day; the two young people believe themselves to be in love. Nina and Bertie discuss the best ways to prevent this going further. Bertie discusses Rosamund with Morris and tells him he should not encourage Rosamund to think herself in love. Morris is persuaded to go away and leave Rosamund to get over her infatuation. He and Rosamund quarrel over Bertie's care of her and Frances, and Morris is disappointed in her, but pleased with his own renunciation of her company. Hazel, at a shooting party, falls in love with the much older and divorced Sir Guy Marleswood, and writes to Rosamund about it, acknowledging that her parents will not approve of her marrying a divorced man, but determined to do so. She returns home and is followed by her suitor, who asks formally for her hand. Frederick is not against the match but considers Hazel too young to marry yet, and advises her to wait, but Hazel refuses. Frederick eventually gives his consent, although Bertie disagrees with him and refuses to believe that Hazel will marry without consent if it is withheld. She is defeated, however, and Hazel's wedding goes ahead. A year after Hazel's marriage, Frances begins to think about becoming a Catholic. Bertie, Rosamund and Frances go to London for a long visit and meet again Lady Argent and Ludovic. Lady Argent has since converted to Catholicism. Ludovic is affected by the sense of emotional unrest emanating from Rosamund. Frances goes to spend some time with Lady Argent in the Wye Valley, and they discuss the Catholic faith. Nina Severing is staying locally and visits Lady Argent, who does not like her at all. Lady Argent takes Frances to meet Father Anselm of Twickenham. Frances, now determined to become a Catholic, discusses the difficulty of this with Ludovic, who is surprised by her resolve. After Frances has gone home, Bertie writes to Lady Argent saying that Frances is now determined to convert and to make a retreat at a convent known to Lady Argent. Nina Severing offers to accompany her on the retreat. At the convent, they meet Mere Pauline, the Superior, and Mrs Mulholland, a lady boarder who is voluble and imposing. Nina is unsure about following the convent regime and when Morris suddenly returns from overseas, is happy to leave early without Frances. Bertie is angry with her for leaving Frances alone, and goes down to the convent where she finds Frances making preparations for her reception into the Church.Mrs Mulholland intervenes with Bertie on Frances's behalf, and in discussions with Mere Pauline, Bertie realises she cannot mount further resistance, and consents to Frances's conversion. After the ceremony they go to visit Hazel who now has a small son. Hazel is happy and takes no notice of her mother's child-rearing advice; she is happy for Frances and asks her whether she thinks of becoming a nun. Frances speaks of this idea for the first time and suggests that she would be happy with convent life. Hazel advises her to follow her own convictions. Back in Porthlew, the sisters attend a concert. Rosamund has begun to make plans for a return to the Wye Valley cottage once she is of age, assuming Frances will come with her, but realises that Frances's new faith may create obstacles; suddenly, she realises that Frances will want to become a nun. She asks Frances to promise not to do this, but she cannot. Rosamund hints at her fears to Bertie, who suggests that Frances's excitement about her faith is a consequence of conversion and will subside. Rosamund begins to be reassured about Frances, but then letters come for her from Father Anselm and Mere Pauline which show that Frances has indeed been pursuing her religious vocation. Bertie is very angry, and determined to prevent this. Rosamund, reassured that Frances could leave during her novitiate, asks Frederick to give his consent. He refers her to Bertie, who will not allow Frances to set a date for her departure to the convent. Frances leaves the house in secret while Bertie is away. Life in the novitiate is tiring for Frances who is used to much more sleep and no manual work. She finds the large meals difficult to finish, and the monotony and intensity of the convent life strange, but is happy and after six months her superiors begin to suggest that she will make her preliminary vows. Rosamund attends this ceremony (with Lady Argent) and the sisters meet again; Rosamund appears understanding of the step Frances is taking, but in fact is still convinced that Frances will realise her mistake and come home again. Frances makes her first vows and says goodbye to Rosamund, very sad and lonely for her sister, but convinced she has taken the right step. At home in the Wye Valley, Lady Argent and Ludovic discuss the sisters, and have recognised that Rosamund is depending on Frances leaving the convent. Rosamund finds she can discuss her frustrations with Ludovic, who is sceptical about religion. Rosamund returns to Porthlew in a state of anxiety about her sister's happiness and future Morris Severing contacts his mother, who joins him in London, wishing to keep him away from the distraught Rosamund. They quarrel, and Nina reminds Morris of her diaries, which record his various misdeeds. Bertie writes to Nina to say that Frances is seriously ill at the convent. Rosamund arrives at the convent but is not allowed to see Frances; Frances is told she is there, and sends her love. Rosamund is taken to the chapel and, stricken with misery, prays for Frances to die so that her suffering will be over and she will not be recalled to endure convent life. Frances does die, and Rosamund collapses; she stays in the convent infirmary for some days. She is somewhat comforted by Mrs Mullholland's confident faith in heaven and reunion with those she has loved. Bertie writes that Frederick is very ill with pneumonia, and Rosamund goes to stay with Lady Argent. They discuss Rosamund's plans, and the right place for her to live; she feels that it would be pointless to return permanently to Porthlew, but fears it may be her duty. Frederick dies, and Rosamund goes back to Porthlew, where she learns that Bertie means to sell the house. Recognising Bertie's need to be needed, she asks her to return to the Wye Valley cottage with her. Nina visits them there, and Morris meets Rosamund again, and renews his suit, but Rosamund rejects him. Nina and Morris go abroad. Ludovic, now "in Parliament", grows closer to Rosamund, but she fears that after Frances's death she cannot care deeply for anyone. The novel closes as Rosamund, without acknowledging his affection in words, gives him her hand to hold.
Catholicism motherhood sibling relationships